Rome - Italy's Court of Auditors confirmed Wednesday it was probing international credit rating agencies over a series of downgrades that hit the country at the height of the eurozone debt crisis.

On Tuesday, the Financial Times newspaper reported that Standard & Poor's had been notified of the investigation, and accused of ignoring “Italy's history, art or landscape which, as universally recognised, are the basis of its economic strength.”

“It is still a preliminary investigation, therefore the case could also be thrown out, after (credit rating) agencies present their explanations and counter-observations,” auditors said in a statement.

They did not repeat the accusation that Italy's artistic heritage was wrongfully ignored, indicating only that a court prosecutor was looking into downgrades made in 2011 and 2012, which resulted in a sharp increase in Italy's risk indicators.

The ensuing financial crisis pushed then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi out of office.

He was replaced in November 2011 by Mario Monti, a European Union technocrat who introduced severe austerity measures to stave off the risk of default.

The Court of Auditors also stressed that it was too early to speak of damages claims, whereas the Financial Times mentioned the figure of 234 billion euros (320 billion dollars), which also involved the credit rating agencies Moody's and Fitch.

Reacting to press reports, Culture Minister Massimo Bray said, “The value of Italy's historical, cultural, artistic and landscape heritage is undoubted and cannot be disputed,” and added that the government should do more to exploit it. - Sapa-dpa